#StandWithBelarus

Human Rights Foundation
HRF Raises $500,000 to Support Democracy in Belarus

Since its inception, the Belarus Solidarity Fund has provided a lifeline to democracy movements in Belarus. HRF provides modest financial assistance to those Belarusians who have been fired from their jobs, injured, arbitrarily detained, or who face steep fines because of their support for freedom and democracy in Belarus. The fund also provides equipment and assistance to independent journalists who, at great personal risk, continue to cover events in Belarus even in the face of government repression.

So far, more than 1,000 individual donors have contributed to the fund, and $450,000 have already been disbursed as direct support for journalists, human rights advocates, civil society organizations, and workers on strike against the dictatorship.

Eight months ago, fraudulent elections sparked a democratic uprising in Belarus. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens all across the country took to the streets to protest the regime of Alexander Lukashenko — who first seized power in 1994 — and express their support for freedom and democracy. For months, the peaceful protesters endured the brutality of the regime, which resorted to extreme violence, including the use of live ammunition, torture, and rape in prisons, to deter the democracy movement. According to the Human Rights Centre Viasna, in 2020 more than 33,000 individuals were detained, more than 1,000 cases of torture were documented, and at least 7 people were killed since the beginning of the protests.

HRF began closely monitoring the situation in Belarus back in May 2020, when the first protests against the Lukashenko regime started. In August, HRF persuaded American rapper Tyga to cancel a concert planned as a propaganda stunt for Lukashenko, and urged members of the Belarusian state security apparatus to lay down their arms. At the end of August, HRF set up the Belarus Solidarity Fund to aid protesters adversely affected by their support for freedom and democracy. In September, HRF hosted Belarusian democratic leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya for a talk at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

In January, the Belarusian democracy movement achieved an important victory when the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) moved the Ice Hockey World Championships away from Belarus, after facing public backlash from Belarusians, as well as the international community. HRF wrote a letter to the IIHF as part of the civil society campaign, which you can read here. This month, HRF recorded a podcast with the Belarus Sports Solidarity Foundation to discuss how Belarusian athletes are defending democracy. Going forward, HRF will continue to support the Belarusian democracy movement through direct aid, legal advocacy, and public education.

To celebrate this milestone, HRF is organizing a special Clubhouse event with our Chairman Garry Kasparov, Magnitsky Act originator Bill Browder, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and the leader of democractic Belarus Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya about what the future of the democracy movement in Belarus looks like. We will update you with details soon. The event will take place at the Oslo Freedom Forum club on Clubhouse, an audio-only social media app, where HRF holds a weekly discussion series on the most pressing human rights issues with activists from around the world.

It is more important now than ever to support the Belarusian democracy movement.

Last week, Belarusians celebrated the Day of Freedom by peacefully protesting all across the country. The demands of the protesters remain unchanged. The violence against Belarusians must be stopped, political prisoners must be released, and new, free and fair elections must be held. To further support the Belarusian democracy movement, you can help by:

Donating to the Belarus Solidarity Fund.

Writing letters to political prisoners in Belarus.

Assuming godparenthood over political prisoners.

Writing a tweet, social media post, or creating a video in support of Belarus with the hashtag #StandWithBelarus.

Source: HRF emailing. Thanks to SZ for the advice. NB. Contrary to the claim made in the text, above, Lukashenko did not “seize power” in 1994. He received over 45% of the vote in the first round and over 80% in the second round of the first post-independence presidential election in 1994, which is generally regarded as the only free and fair election held in post-Soviet Belarus. || TRR

When the Night Lanterns Sway

When the Night Lanterns Sway: It’s Useless to Try and Beat the State on Its Own “Legal Turf”
Alexander Skobov
Kasparov.ru
February 13, 2021

On February 9, Leonid Volkov, head of Navalny’s network of local teams, announced a flash mob for February 14, Valentine’s Day: residents of large cities should go into their courtyards at 8 p.m. and turn on their mobile phone flashlights. This is an attempt to adopt Belarusian know-how [see the article, below]. The idea is that residents of the same yard who are sympathetic to the protest movement but don’t know each other can get acquainted and create a grassroots network for rapid notification and mobilization.

Putin’s occupation army has reacted hysterically to the undertaking. A yahoo from the Assembly for Approving the Cutie Pie Slutsky’s Sexual Harassment (colloquially known as the State Skank) compared the flashlights in the courtyards with the signals of saboteurs guiding German bombers to their targets. The Investigative Committee, the Interior Ministry, and the Prosecutor General’s Office declared it a call for “mass rioting” and threatened potential flash mob participants with criminal charges. Roskomnadzor has been chasing down internet media officially operating in Russian Federation and forcing them to delete reports about the planned event.

The point here is not a “shutdown of law in Russia,” which, according to Vladimir Pastukhov, occurred after Navalny’s return. A completely anti-legal, multi-level system for cracking down on street activism has long been erected in Russia. It consists of three elements: 1) laws aimed at restricting the right to public expression of opinion; 2) a dishonest and broad interpretation of these laws by the police and the courts; 3) and pure lawlessness, as when the police engage directly in frame-ups and fakery, and the obedient courts pretend not to see it.

Those who tried to defend the Article 31 of the Russian Constitution [“Citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to hold meetings, rallies, demonstrations, marches and pickets”] focused mainly on the third element and sluggishly butted heads with the authorities over the second element, while almost ignoring the first element. Meanwhile, it was all about the first element. The second and third elements were just an appendix to it.

The Code of Administrative Offenses contains an article that punishes involvement in unauthorized events. The shapes and features of this involvement are not described. They are listed in Federal Law No. 54 (“On Mass Events”). In particular, it says that at a mass public event, participants express their attitude to current socio-political problems by chanting slogans and holding up placards.

For many years, opposition activists have been looking for an “unauthorized” way to publicly voice their opinions that would not get them detained. For a long time, they unsuccessfully tried to prove in the courts that if they did not chant slogans and did not hold up placards, there was no protest rally as such. However, the list of ways of participating in a rally, as enumerated in Federal Law No. 54, is not exhaustive. That is, any way of voicing one’s stance is considered an indication of having participated in a public event. That is, expression of a position as such is considered “participation.”

The phrase “expressed [his/her] attitude to current socio-political problems” is often found in police reports on the arrest of people involved in unauthorized public events. The phrase sounds crazy and comical when it comes to legally justifying arresting people and charging them with administrative offenses. It was not invented by the police goons, however. It was borrowed from the definition of a protest rally contained in Federal Law No. 54.

In fact, this coinage, found in police reports and “court” rulings, expresses the collective unconscious of the bureaucratic police regime—its dream, its loftiest ideal. Ordinary citizens should not publicly voice their opinions on current socio-political issues. It is better for them not to have such opinions at all. Voicing opinions is the prerogative of the authorities.

Hence, the very fact that an ordinary citizen voices their socio-political position is considered an anomaly, a deviation from the norm, a violation of public order. And when you start arguing with the authorities at the police station or in “court,” asking them what socially dangerous or simply harmful actions were committed by a citizen who was detained for publicly expressing their position by attending an outdoor rally, they sincerely don’t understand what you are talking about. It is clear to them that publicly voicing a position itself is a socially harmful action if ever there was one.

Since (they say) the greatest geopolitical catastrophe happened, and we are now forced to temporarily recognize a citizen’s right to voice their position at least formally, we’ll load your opportunity to exercise this right with so many conditions that you’ll rue the day you tried to do it. And they really have been doing just this—purposefully, consistently, for the entire length of Putin’s rule.

The lawless authorities refuse to authorize opposition rallies at central and iconic locations under completely far-fetched and false pretexts, and our “managed” injustice system almost always takes the side of the authorities. On the other hand, the “legislators” in the State Skank seek to block any chance people have to publicly voice their stance without prior approval. As soon as the opposition finds a new way of protesting, enabling it to circumvent previously imposed bans, a new amendment or a new law immediately follows, sealing this loophole as well.

It is useless to try to win against the state on its own “legal turf” as long as it has the will and power to shut society up. The state’s will can be opposed only by society’s will not to obey anti-legal prohibitions. The point of unauthorized public events is that they demonstratively violate prohibitions on “unauthorized” expressions of one’s opinion.

I have already had occasion to write that prohibiting people from publicly expressing their attitude to current socio-political issues without permission is an important part of the system for manipulating the admission of players to the “political market.” The entire social and political system that has taken shape in Russia is based on this system of manipulation. In order to reliably guarantee citizens their constitutional right to freely express their attitude to socio-political issues peacefully and unarmed, we have to replace the entire socio-political system.

Translated by the Russian Reader

When the Night Lanterns Sing

When the night lanterns swing,
And it’s dangerous for you to walk the dark streets,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I can’t love anyone anymore.

The girls kissed my feet like they were crazy,
A widow and I drank through my father’s  house.
And my cheeky laugh
Was always a success,
And my youth has cracked like a nut!

I sit on a bunk like a king at a birthday party,
And I dream of getting a drab ration.
I look out the window like an owl:
Now I don’t care!
I’m ready to put out my torch before anyone else.

When the night lanterns swing,
And the black cat runs down the street like the devil,
I’m coming from the pub,
I’m not expecting anyone,
I’ve broken my lifetime record forever!

Lyrics by Gleb Gorbovsky. Source: a-pesni. Performance by Beseder and Lyonchik. Translated by the Russian Reader

A protest in Minsk. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS. Courtesy of MBKh Media

Belarusian Courtyard Protests Model for Latest Navalny Tactic
Window on Eurasia
February 13, 2021

Staunton, February 11 — The Navalny organization’s decision to shift at least for a time from mass public protests to smaller but perhaps even more numerous demonstrations in the courtyards of Russian apartment blocks is not a unique Russian innovation. Instead, it has its roots in what Belarusian protesters have been doing since last fall.

In Belarusian cities, MBKh journalist Arina Kochemarova says, this shift has led to the emergence of whole areas devoted to protests and to the first flowering of what many people there hope will result in the formation of local self-administration, yet another way they hope to undermine Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.

In these Belarusian courtyards, she points out, places that people have christened “squares of change,” people fly the white-red-white Belarusian flag, organize concerns and flash mobs, and in many cases get to know their neighbors better than they ever have in the past, something that by itself promotes solidarity against the government.

Yegor Martinovich, editor of Belarusian Nasha Niva newspaper, says that Belarusians made the shift because of the rising tide of repression and arrests of those taking part in major demonstrations. Fewer people are taking part in the courtyard protests, but at the same time, he suggests, courtyard meetings are forming a sense of solidarity for the future.

Courtyard protests are not only harder for the authorities to counter, but they also can take a variety of formats ranging from flash mobs to the emergence of genuinely independent community organization. “Civil society has begun to flourish everywhere which in general is a good thing. People have begun to unite,” the editor says.

The biggest problem with this shift, Martinovich says, is that the media pays a great deal more attention to one big demonstration than it does to many smaller ones, even if the smaller ones collectively include more people and have a greater impact. Moreover, Lukashenka is learning how to react, cutting off utilities where there are white-red-white flags.

Now, this Belarusian tactic is coming to Russia, intensifying fears among the authorities that the Navalny movement could develop the way in which the Belarusian one has. Russian officials have already made clear that they will crack down hard early on lest the shift from the streets to the courtyards takes off.

David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures

David Frenkel
Facebook
December 30, 2020

I had a poor year shooting photographs: there were few events in [Petersburg], and I missed some important stories due to my arm being broken. But in the end, it seems that the photos still piled up.

January 19, 2020. Activists of the Vesna Movement say goodbye to the Russia Constitution near the Constitutional Court in Petersburg.

January 31, 2020. Authorities analyze the debris after the Sport and Concert Complex (SKK) in Petersburg collapses.

February 1, 2020. Police detain a man for a picketing against proposed amendments to the Russian Constitution on Senate Square in Petersburg.

February 9, 2020. A solo picket in Penza before the verdict in the Network Case was announced.

February 10, 2020. Defendants in the Network Case after the verdict was announced in the Penza Regional Court.

Continue reading “David Frenkel: The Year 2020 in Pictures”

Arkady Kots: We Will Have to Fight for the Future

Arkady Kots, The Belarusian Collection
Dec 28, 2020

We support rebellious Belarus. We hope that Belarusian workers, “social parasites,” women, students, pensioners, and the entire Belarusian nation wrest power from the bat-brained dictator and don’t surrender it to anyone.

00:00 – Solidarity
03:20 – Bella Ciao
06:28 – Walls
10:11 – Prison Song
13:01 – Song of the Jewish Partisans (“Zog nit keyn mol”)
19:22 – There Is Power in a Union
22:56 – Women’s Song (“L’hymne des femmes”)
25:19 – Counterattack
29:19 – Lusya
33:06 – Forest Song
35:55 – Peramozham
38:53 – Fog
41:10 – Who Shoots at Workers
44:44 – Nothing Works Without Love

#ArkadyKots #Walls #BelarusianCollection

_______________________________

“We Will Have to Fight for the Future!”
Arkady Kots premieres an album in support of Belarusian protesters on the Novaya Gazeta website
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
December 28, 2020

Nikolay Oleynikov, musician, artist, and soloist in the group Arkady Kots:

We have been following the protests in Belarus from the outset. We were happy when our song “Walls” became one of the main [protest] songs there. And we were about to go to Minsk, everything was ready, but then the guys who invited us and promised to organize several concerts at factory gates wrote: “Stand down, all the factory gates have been occupied by the police.”

It is a pity that we were not able [to do the concerts], but it increased our desire to help Belarusians from here.

We saw that our government basically supports Lukashenko, and we thought it important to sing on behalf of those Russians who are unequivocally against the rout of the elections, against the savage crackdown, who support an independent Belarus, a country near and dear to us. Both our new songs and old ones gradually formed a statement that eventually turned into The Belarusian Collection.

First we understood how to make a Russian version of a song we had been trying to do for a long time—“Solidarity,” by the English punk band Angelic Upstarts, written in the 80s in support of the Polish trade unions. It has this interesting moment, atypical for protest songs, especially leftist ones—a reference to religion. “And we’ll pray for our nation through its darkest times,” they sing in the original. Sincere faith can drive a protest very far: priests played a big role in the Polish Solidarity  movement of the 70s and 80s. That victory, by the way, has shown its flip side today. The conservatives [in Poland] are trying to deprive women of the right to abortion, the right is in power, and the system is clearly distant from what the trade unionists fought for back in the day against the regime and the bureaucracy. But when we see how the priests in Minsk have been supporting the protesters, hiding them from the riot police in churches, this is what we want to sing.

Well, and then there are the workers who came to the forefront of the political struggle in Belarus at some point: that’s another great story, of course, and, I hope, it’s a story that hasn’t ended. Without the workers, a revolution is doomed: new elites seize power and continue to exploit people under new slogans.

We saw how our friends from the leftist party A Just World were bullied and imprisoned: two years ago, we recorded our version of the famous Chilean anthem “Venceremos” in Belarusian (“Peramozham”) for them. Masha Shakuro, who is from the Minsk group Boston Tea Party and, simultaneously, the captain of the Belarusian national rugby team, spent two weeks in prison. Two years ago, she and her band to Moscow for our festival Punk Against Electroshock Torture.

We were involved in PartiZan Fest, which, due to the pressure the authorities put on the clubs, could not be held live. Consequently, the festival was broadcast on TV Rain, and they managed to raise $30,000 for victims of the crackdown in Belarus.

In parallel, we have been recording with European musicians. The Partisan Album features anti-fascist songs from the Second World War, which, of course, included the Belarusian “Forest Song” (“Birches and Pines”), as well as our version of “Bella Ciao,” which contains a reference to the Belarusian partisans. Then there are two completely new tracks that you will hear in this anthology: “Jewish Song” by Hirsch Glick, a poet of the Vilna Ghetto, and the experimental composition “Counterattack,” set to a poem by the Warsaw Ghetto poet Władysław Szlengel, who died during the Uprising. The video for “Counterattack” was made by the Belarusian artist and historian Aliaksandra Osipova, who is from Pinsk. Although she realized that she was taking a risk, Aliaksandra agreed to direct a short film for this track. “The main idea was to combine the moving masses of color and the masses of people, to show the tension between the universality of the struggle and the concreteness of the gestures of resistance and defiance,” she says.

It is interesting how at such moments non-obvious connections and identities are actualized, and it turns out that you have many friends with Belarusian roots. Guys from the diaspora have given us “honorary Belarusians” certificates. I sing in Belarusian as a sign of anti-imperial solidarity, while Kirill Medvedev recalls his great-grandfather Semyon Ilyushenko from near Vitebsk, who fought in the Red Army under Frunze, and then created Soviet jet fuel in a sharashka.

In this covid year, it is as if the old map of Europe has been redrawn for us. New lines are emerging, Soviet and non-Soviet roots are connecting into something new, into a future for which we will still have to fight, and not only with songs.

Speaking of fascism. The other day, our bandmate Oleg Zhuravlev, a sociologist and co-founder of Arkady Kots, was brutally beaten and robbed by the cops in Petersburg, after which he was kept out in the cold all night in a cage with the window wide open. And yesterday exactly the same thing happened to the Petersburg historian Pavel Demchenko, in the very same 28th police precinct on Marat Street [in downtown Petersburg]. Now the guys are combining their cases, and communicating with lawyers to make as big a dent as possible in police lawlessness. The Russian police have recently been rapidly rushing down the road to hell, trying to compete with Lukashenko’s police, apparently.

In the meantime, I want to congratulate everyone on the passing year, a year of many terrible deaths, extreme violence and heroism. I hope the future will be peaceful and beautiful. Listen to The Belarusian Collection!

Translated by the Russian Reader. Image (below) courtesy of the Arkady Kots Bandcamp page

Come Out for a Walk

Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me

We gather freely and walk where we will
Come out for a walk, just come out for a walk
We gather freely, though we’re a little scared shitless
Come out for a walk, just come out for a walk
We’ll write the word “Enough!” on the pavement in white chalk
You can take your little sister, my little brother is coming with me
Don’t take toys with you, there are tanks and soldiers
More interesting than walking, there are no more important classes

We gather freely and walk where we will
Come out for a walk, just come out for a walk
We gather freely, though we’re a little scared shitless
Come out for a walk, just come out for a walk
Let them point a finger at us. So what if we get punished?
So what if we get wet and shiver and get goosebumps?
Don’t be afraid, there won’t be enough zelyonka or poop for everyone
Of course, stay at home if you’re younger

Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me

Squirt guns, nerf blasters and spitball shooters
Don’t take anything, just come out for a walk
Smoke bombs and slingshots, sticks and jump ropes
Don’t take anything, just come out for a walk
There are cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians
Come out for a walk. Why you sitting on the windowsill?
You can do it on roller skates, but we’ll be shooting videos
There are helmets, elbow pads. In noughts and crosses
We play noughts, don’t put a cross on the noughts
If you want to give them a kick in the ass, you’ll get three years in the pen

They will cut us, they will beat us, be patient and calm
You still need to drive, get out of the house
On the golden porch sat the tsar, the tsarevich, the king’s son
They twist and turn the carousel, and you won’t change anything
One, two, three, four, five, here they come looking for me
I didn’t hide—it wasn’t my fault

Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out, come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out for a walk with me
Come out

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriter: Andrei Pasechny


A still from the Kasta video “Come Out for a Walk.” Courtesy of YouTube

Red Red Blood: Kasta’s Video and the End of Post-Soviet Pop Culture
Andrei Arkhangelsky
Republic
December 1, 2020

Kasta’s new video “Come Out for a Walk”—about a riot policeman whose body and even clothes bleed, like the people he beats—has already garnered two and a half million views and tens of thousands of comments. Although the song was written a long time ago, the plot of the video, according to Kasta member Shym, was inspired by the police beatings of peaceful protesters in Belarus.

The idea of the video is painfully simple: everything hidden will be revealed sooner or later. In our hyper-speed age, “sooner or later” means in a couple of hours, days, or weeks, at most. But pop culture artists, as we know, always tell us more than they mean to say. The video’s release says several symbolic things that are vital for all of post-Soviet culture.

In this video, it is not people, but blood that plays the starring role. Blood is a silent substance, but as an image it acts magically on us, because it requires no explanation. It captures our attention, fascinating and hypnotizing us. It is like fire or water in this sense: we can’t get away from it.

This is surprising to hear, of course, if you remember how many liters of fake blood are shed every day, for example, in “patriotic” movies. The blood there, however, does not make such an impression, because in its own context it is “normal,” meaning that it is shed “for a just cause.” Violence in peacetime is something fundamentally different: propaganda tries to hide this, instilling in us the need to live in peacetime under military law. Violence in peacetime makes personable poses, primps and preens, dresses in different guises, including white, and sometimes it pulls it off. The idea that for the sake of the country’s “stability” we can shed a couple of “non–fatal” liters of blood, precisely for educational purposes, was until recently considered an unspoken norm in our country. Now, in the public view, it is wrong. Kasta’s video captures this sea change in the public mood, cancelling the previous unspoken agreements between state and society.

In a broad sense, this ubiquitous, oozing, flowing blood is an even more global metaphor for all Russian popular entertainment of the past twenty years. In fact, this entertainment, starting with the historical series of the noughties (the TV adaptations of Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat and even Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle) was a story about the tons of blood spilled by the Stalinist state. However, on screen, this blood was, figuratively speaking, packed in sealed, leak-proof containers and sold to the post-Soviet audience in the form of little hearts—stuffed with love, friendship, loyalty, and so on.

“There was violence, but there were also good things”: this, approximately, is the golden formula of reconciliation (reconciliation with violence, simply put) that worked and still works in popular entertainment. State violence in movies and TV shows is always balanced by a sacrifice made in the name of the common good (the Chekist who committed injustices goes to war and washes away the sin with his own blood) or in the form of a deus ex machina (“the Party sorted the matter out and released the man, who was roughed up but alive”).

All Russian serials about the Soviet era are made with the acceptance of “history as it is,” and with the simultaneous understanding that “this is your motherland,” as former culture minister and current presidential aide Vladimir Medinsky recently suggested. Evoking Kasta’s metaphor, we can say that the blood flows moderately in Stalinist TV series: the Chekist bends over the innocent prisoner and hits him a couple of times, or even kicks him, but he does not beat the man to death. All these series are made exactly in this way: nothing is done “to death.” And so the viewer who watches them gets the feeling that while it is not easy to live with shedding a little blood, it is basically permissible.

Consequently, post-Soviet society has not had a conversation about violence as the vicious underpinning of the former ruling ideology. In contemporary cinema, police and secret service officers are presented as reflective intellectuals, as in the recent TV series Dyatlov Pass. They are tormented by life’s unsolvable problems, not to mention the fact that they are generally positive characters. We should admit that the conversation about violence has been swept under the rug over the past twenty years through targeted ideological work involving popular entertainment.

But the social trauma itself has not disappeared. The habit of violence has remained, and now it has literally leaked out in the form of the real sadism at the jail on Okrestin Street in Minsk, which can be considered a universal symbol for many post-Soviet countries. This sadism is now running down, soaking “through the gold of uniforms”: this is how it could be formulated in a broader context, not only in Belarus.

On the other hand, there is protest. In western culture, it has long been established as a social norm, nor are artists necessarily on the side of the protesters. Pasolini has a poem about police officers who beat up students at a demonstration. It includes the lines, “When you were at the Valle Giulia yesterday you brawled with the police, I sympathized with the policemen!” Then Pasolini explains why:

I know well,
I know how they were as little kids and young men,
the precious penny, the father who never grew up,
because poverty does not bestow authority.
The mother calloused like a porter, or tender,
because of some disease, like a little bird.

The conflict between police and students (protestors) is always unresolvable in some sense, but it is also normal. This paradox is typical of democracy, where, as we know, everything that is not forbidden is allowed. A free society constantly tests the authorities as to what is acceptable and unacceptable, but the very essence of democracy manifests itself in this “qual,” to borrow a term from rap culture.

Popular culture’s natural instinct again, is to discuss and reflect on protest. In Russian movies, however, the topic is taboo or ridiculed. Protest is imagined as a testosterone-fueled fad, something for people with nothing better to do, or as a form of manipulation, but most often protests are not depicted in Russian cinema at all. When we are told that popular entertainment is not to blame and owes nothing to anyone, we should respond by recalling that the silencing of socially important topics today is a way to encourage evil. When we try to answer the question of where this sadism comes from, we can mull over it for a long time in the same old lofty terms: unarticulated trauma, the post-Soviet syndrome.

But there is a simpler explanation. The same riot police officer who beats people because circumstances allow him to do it “does not know,” broadly speaking, that it is wrong precisely because popular culture has never, in the last twenty years, transmitted this simple idea to him. It has not told him that protesting is normal and shedding blood is wrong. What is worse, popular entertainment in Russia has been looking for various sophisticated ways to justify the shedding of innocent blood in the name of higher causes. And since Belarusian and Russian riot policemen have consumed this pop culture in equal measure, the outcome is roughly the same.

Just as the red substance in the video flows from helmets and riot batons, so reality itself today reminds us of its existence despite all the attempts to hide it. While you are controlling the big screen, the truth will leak out on the small screen: this is the video’s symbolic sense. When the time comes, what has been hidden will pour from the screens just as uncompromisingly. It will again be a shock to the audience, like, say, the articles about Stalinism in the perestroika-era press were to readers back then. The blood in the video is a metaphor for truth (or reality) itself, a truth that cannot be canceled in any way. This hidden thing will sooner or later burst the dam, and it will not be subdued, just as it is impossible to stanch the blood flowing in Kasta’s video.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Mikola Dziadok: A Tortured Political Prisoner in Belarus

Lawyer on Dziadok’s Condition: “Injuries from Handcuffs on the Hands, Huge Bruises on the Thighs and Back”
Viasna
November 19, 2020

Novy Chas journalist and blogger Mikola Dziadok was detained on November 12 in the village of Sosnovy in the Asipovichi District. In a video that was circulated by the Belarusian Interior Ministry, it is clear that Dziadok had been beaten. His lawyer, Natalya Matskevich, has announced that she has filed a motion to order a forensic medical examination in respect of Dziadok. Novy Chas contacted Matskevich to find out more about what is happening with Dziadok.

Mikola Dziadok, as seen in the notorious Belarusian Interior Ministry video published after his arrest

Where is Mikola now? What is his condition?

On November 17, Mikola was transferred from the temporary detention center on Okrestin Street to Pre-Trial Detention Center No. 1 on Volodarsky Street in Minsk. For the time being he is in quarantine. His physical condition can now be called normal, and emotionally he is also holding up well: he is cheerful. He says that he remains true to his beliefs and principles.

Did he tell you how he was detained?

Before his arrest, Mikola had rented an apartment in the village of Sosnovy for several months. He was not hiding from anyone, but he understood that in the current circumstances it was better for him not to be in Minsk, since for the past several years he had been closely watched by GUBOPiK [the Department for Organized Crime and Corruption Prevention], solely in connection with his [political] views and stance, which he expressed publicly. According to Mikola, on November 11, at about eleven in the evening, seven masked law enforcement officers broke into his second-floor apartment by breaking a window. After capturing him, they used physical violence and special equipment until they got him to “confess” on camera. Then they took him to Minsk, where they worked him over for several hours, demanding access to a computer disk and [his] Telegram channels. It was only after five in the morning that they took him to the temporary detention center.

What methods were used to make him talk? How forceful were they?

I will not go into details: I will be filing an appropriate procedural motion to this effect. I can say that I have had several clients who fled Chechnya after being tortured and were detained in Belarus for deportation. But I never thought that I would hear stories about such things happening in our own country.

As Mikola told me, a few hours after his arrest, when he was lying on the floor in one of the [law enforcement] departments, he was made to swear that he would not speak about GUBOPiK. Let’s say that happened. Moreover, we do not know yet the names of those who made the arrest. But on November 12, it was this department that reported on its actions in detaining Dziadok and [published] videos showing Mikola’s state after he was detained. Even a slightly experienced person will immediately notice traces of tear gas use at close range in the first video, and the second video clearly shows a hematoma around [Mikola’s] left eye. What else did I see in the temporary detention center? Injuries from handcuffs on his hands, and huge bruises on his thighs and back.

I think that, taking into account the fact that several law enforcement officers detained the unarmed Dziadok unexpectedly, the question of the proportionate use of force for the purpose of detention should not be considered at all. Rather, there should be a legal assessment of whether there was an abuse of power and legal authority.

All [of Mikola’s] visible injuries were documented, at least, when he entered the pre-trial detention center. Investigators have sufficient grounds for conducting an inquiry and deciding whether to initiate a criminal case [against the officers who detained Dziadok].

Do you expect such an investigation, given that there were thousands of allegations of violence against people by law enforcement officers in August of this year, but not a single criminal case was opened?

It’s hard to be sure of the results. Even in 2017, when after Mikola was detained on his way to a Freedom Day rally, he was taken to the emergency hospital with a concussion, which was absolute proof of the use of violence by the police, no criminal case was initiated. Then, after an official inquiry, the authorities issued an opinion that Mikola already had these injuries when he was detained. We appealed this decision both through the prosecutor’s office and in the courts, but to no avail. The case is currently under review by the UN Human Rights Committee.

As far as the current situation is concerned, the investigators are obliged to respond in an appropriate procedural manner. The international standard for investigating torture is a prompt, independent, objective and effective investigation, provided that the victim is protected from possible threats in connection with the investigation. The Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus also contains these principles. So let’s see how principled the Investigative Committee will be in its actions.

What can you say about the “Molotov cocktails” and “cold weapons” that GUBOPiK allegedly found in Mikola’s apartment?

Are you referring to the bottles shown in the Interior Ministry’s video? How do they know what was in them? Who performed the expert analysis on the “cold weapons”? If you recall the notorious case of the White Legion, state TV channels then showed viewers a whole trunkload of bottles filled with liquids, and some knives, too. And where are they now? Mikola told me that he did not have these bottles. We should ask simple logical questions, taking into account that Dedok has not recently been involved in any marches and rallies, and has not called for violent actions. Why would he have needed “Molotov cocktails” in the village of Sosnovy? Would he have taken them by bus to Minsk?

Can you tell us what the charges against Dziadok are?

As of today, we only know what the Interior Ministry said in its communique. As long as there is no specific description of the criminal acts alleged to have been committed by Dziadok, there is no way I can comment on anything. From what was said in the Interior Ministry’s communique—”[he] actively administered a radical Telegram channel, where he publicly called for participation in mass riots”—we can conclude that he is being criminally prosecuted for making certain statements, for expressing a certain opinion. But I don’t think that any of Dziadok’s publications can be objectively assessed as calls for violent action.

You can write letters to Mikola Dziadok at SIZO-1, ul. Volodarskgo, 2, Minsk, 220030, Belarus.

Thanks to Comrade NN for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

New Wave of Police Terror in Minsk

Serge Kharytonau
Facebook
November 16, 2020

Following a major crackdown on civilians on Sunday afternoon, terrorist units of the Belarus “interior ministry” have been kidnapping civilians from residential housing in Minsk for 12+ hours in a row.

Masked interior ministry officers led by the so-called interior minister Ivan Kubrakov have been breaking into private apartments across Minsk since early afternoon with no search warrants, no explanations of their activity, and without identifying themselves or presenting their IDs.

Civilians are being kidnapped on no valid grounds from streets, stores, residential yards, building lobbies, and private apartments.

A de facto curfew with [riot police] checkpoints and passport control has been established across numerous residential areas in the Belarusian capital.

Over 1,100 civilians have been kidnapped or faced arbitrary arrests across Belarus in the last 24 hours, with hundreds subjected to torture in detention centers. Prisons in Minsk are overloaded: numerous convoys of riot police vans transported detainees from Minsk to smaller regional towns this weekend.

Over 100 days, Belarus has turned into a failed state of unprecedented human rights atrocities with no comparable precedents in the last 40 years of European history.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 25,000 people were detained in Belarus over the first 95 days of protests.

The situation in Belarus is turning into a real humanitarian catastrophe as doctors are being arrested on a large scale, with up to 1,900,000 cases of Covid-19 officially acknowledged by the acting authorities since March 2020 in a country of 9.5 million people.

Lukashenko’s regime has to be eliminated. All members of the Belarus interior ministry, military, and acting civil administration involved in the crackdowns must face justice at an International Criminal Tribunal for Belarus.

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up. Image courtesy of the author. The text has been edited lightly to make it more readable. || TRR

Dmitry Strotsev: 13.11.2020

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

*

bees are certain
said Tolstoy
that they are gathering honey for themselves

but in fact
they are pollinating the garden

Belarusians think
says Christ
that they are rallying their land

but in fact
they are healing the world

13.11.2020

“Let’s call it what it is: Roman Bondarenko was murdered.” Photo courtesy of BelarusFeed and TUT.BY

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 13, 2020

For Matches

going out
for matches

leaving the house
for any necessity

dress
carefully

pack as if
you might be gone for ten,
fifteen days

you never know
where terror’s claw
will grab you

the ever-watchful eye
can see you
everywhere

13.11.2020

Translated by the Russian Reader

The Murder of Roman Bondarenko

Dmitry Strotsev
Facebook
November 12, 2020

The Chorus of My People

it is not a public event

the unauthorized
supplications and groans of those tortured
by nkvd hoodlums
by kgb and mvd scum
in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons

it is not a public event

the death rattles
of those hanged in forest parks
buried alive
by the riffraff from the riot police

it is not a public event

it is my country’s ruptured womb
the chorus of my people’s birth trauma

September 10–18, 2020

Roman Bondarenko, who was beaten by men in plainclothes in Minsk, has died in intensive care
Current Time
November 12, 2020

On the evening of November 11, Bondarenko was seized by persons unknown dressed in plainclothes and masks in the courtyard of his house on so-called Change Square and taken away. Neighbors who got through to the Minsk central police department were told that Bondarenko had taken ill and was in hospital. At midnight, Bondarenko was taken to the emergency hospital in serious condition: he was in a coma.

TUT.BY reports that the doctors operated on Bondarenko for several hours: his chances of survival were estimated as one in a thousand. He was unconscious the entire time. He needed another operation, but it was impossible to perform it given his condition.

Bondarenko’s sister Olga Kucherenko told TUT.BY that someone came to the hospital and took all of her brother’s belongings. The family does not know who it was.

In the evening, Bondarenko’s condition deteriorated. He died soon after.

Kucherenko also told Radio Liberty’s Belarusian bureau that she doubted that her brother could have provoked someone into a fight.

“Roma did not provoke anyone: I know this for sure from the the witnesses, and not just one of them. Everything that happened to him happened after Change Square, I know that. I am recording this video so that a large number of people will know what is happening in this country, that people are absolutely defenseless. I very much hope that the law enforcement agencies will open a criminal case. Roma is a very calm person, he never got into any conflicts, even in family relationships. He was very calm and always saw the positive, humorous side of things. I very much hope that justice will prevail and those who did this to him will be punished by real law.”

After the news of Bondarenko’s death, concerned citizens gathered at Change Square. They brought flowers and candles.

Late in the evening on November 11 in the Minsk courtyard known as Change Square, persons unknown tried to remove white-red-and-white ribbons. Bondarenko went out to find out what was going on. People in plainclothes and balaclavas attacked him. A fight broke out. Bondarenko was captured and taken to the central police department. Two hours later, he was in a coma in the intensive care unit of the emergency hospital

The Interior Ministry called the incident a “neighborhood conflict” and a “conflict of opinion.” According to the ministry, “concerned citizens have been trying to restore order and prevent violations of municipal beautification rules.”

The Mingorispolkom police department reported that the security forces arrived on the scene after the brawl: allegedly, the police had received a report about persons unknown fighting in the courtyard on Chervyakov Street.

“Police officers found a 31-year-old citizen with injuries. Subsequently, law enforcement officers called him an ambulance. The man has been hospitalized,” they said.

However, the surveillance video clearly shows persons unknown dragging Bondarenko into a minibus and driving away.

Who Was Roman Bondarenko?
Roman Bondarenko lived on Chervyakov Street near Change Square. Periodically, he spent time with neighbors in the yard. He was an artist by education and had graduated from the Belarusian State Academy of Arts. Recently, he had been working as manager of a store in the Island of Cleanliness chain. He was married. He had served in special forces unit 3214 of the Interior Ministry troops, Belsat reports.

According to relatives, Bondarenko never had any problems with the police, and he did not attend protests or opposition marches.

“He told me that he knows what they can do to him if they detain him, because he served in the special forces,” Bondarenko’s sister told Nasha Niva.

Change Square in Minsk is the name for the courtyard formed by Smorgovsky Tract and Chervyakov Streets. Residents of the nearby residential buildings have created a very close-knit community: in the evenings, tea parties, concerts, and performances are held in the courtyard. For a long time, there was a mural entitled DJs of Change on the transformer vault, and white-red-and-white ribbons constantly hang on the fence. In September, local resident Stepan Latypov was detained there. He demanded that persons unknown who were erasing the mural identify themselves and show their documents. Since September 15, Latypov has been behind bars, accused of “organizing mass riots” and “intending to poison the security forces.”

Thanks to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and other assistance. Photo courtesy of RFE/RL. Translated by the Russian Reader

The Arrest and Framing of Mikola Dziadok

Tatsiana Chulitskaya
Facebook
November 12, 2020

My good friend and former student, the very honest person and true patriot Mikola Dziadok has been detained and beaten in Belarus. The video shows that he was severely beaten. There is no point in commenting on the fact that bundles of money were found in Mikola’s flat. Anyone who knows him at all understands what nonsense this is. And I’m even afraid to imagine what these inhumans did to make Mikola talk about “love for the Motherland” in such interiors. We can only hope that we will see Mikola released very soon.🤍❤️🤍

Belarusian Interior Ministry, “A Leader of the Country’s Anarchist Movement Has Been Detained”

Belarus on the Brain
Telegram
November 12, 2020

Reports of Blogger Mikola Dziadok’s Arrest Confirmed

Dziadok ran the increasingly popular Telegram channel Mikola, where he published political analyses of the situation in Belarus and gave his opinion on what should be done to security victory for the peaceful revolution. Now his channel has obviously been hacked and is in the hands of the security forces.

The purge of the Belarusian political blogosphere began in the summer with the arrest of bloggers Sergei Tikhanovsky (A Country for Living), Vladimir Tsyganovich (MozgON), Igor Losik (Belarus on the Brain), Brest blogger Alexander Kabanov, and others.

Dziadok was one of the few Belarusian political bloggers who did not leave the country. Now he is suspect of violating Article 342* of the criminal code of the Republic of Belarus.

* “The organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order, or active participation in them, is punishable by a fine, or arrest, or restriction of liberty for up to three years, or imprisonment for the same term.”

________________

Thanks to Tatsiana Chulitskaya for permission to translate and post her message here, and to Sasha Razor for the heads-up and introductions. As soon as I have information about how you can show your support to Mikola  Dziadok, I will publish it here. Translated by the Russian Reader

Mikola Dziadok in happier times. Courtesy of his Facebook page